Hockey: Roberts reflects on Elks’ season-ending heartbreaker, looks ahead

by Bruce Strand, Sports editor

Elk River’s first hockey season under former NHL player Gordie Roberts ended with one of those haunting, razor-thin-margin  losses that are difficult to shake off.

The Elks and Grand Rapids jousted to a 0-0 tie in the Section 7AA semifinals in Duluth on Saturday before the Elks got on the board with 2:34 left on a goal by Chase Springman.

The Thunderhawks tied the score with just 10.5 seconds left, and, after a stalemated eight-minute first overtime in which the Elks had a shot by Tim Sanford hit the crossbar, the northern team won 2:54 into the second extra session. Both Thunderhawk goals were scored by Avery Peterson.

Asked to reflect on the game, and the season, Roberts said, “We played pretty well overall, and Mac Berglove had one of his best games of the year. He gave us a chance to win.”

Maclean Berglove stopped 36 of 38 shots and made 16 saves in the third period before Peterson got the equalizer.

While “not blaming the referees,” the coach lamented that the Elks had no power play opportunities while Grand Rapids had three. The Elks were 3-for-3 in penalty kill but power plays affect momentum, he noted.

Obviously, too, falling to close out the game after the opponent pulled its goalie with more than a minute left was “very frustrating.” The Elks had a couple of empty-net opportunities blocked before Grand Rapids got its backs-to-the-wall goal.

“We should have managed the puck a little better in the last 30 seconds in a 1-0 position,” said Roberts.

Peterson also beat the Elks with an overtime goal 3-2 at the Edina tournament in December.

“Avery Peterson had our number this year,” said Roberts. “He scored on a beautiful shot. He put it where there was not a whole lot of room in the top corner. We got beat by a good goal, that’s the only thing that made it easier to take.”

The Elks finished 16-11 with just three seniors — forward Tim Sanford and defenders Wyatt Ege and Cooper Bleyhl.

“I am looking forward to next year. We have a good group of kids,” said Roberts. “I enjoyed my first year coaching with Bruce Johnson and Ben Gustafson. We’ve got some good, solid Bantam A coming up to take the roles of  (the graduates) and we’ve got our goaltender back.”

Roberts’ is a USA Hockey Hall of Famer whose 21-year career in the NHL included eight seasons as a North Stars in the 1980’s and two Stanley Cup-winning seasons with Pittsburgh in 1991 and 92. He’s been director of player development and an assistant coach for the Phoenix Coyotes, and a scout for the Montreal Canadiens. He’s also done some college coaching.

“For me it was a good learning year, understanding this level again. I will be a better coach next year with 26 games under my belt. Obviously I know hockey and everything that needs to  be done, but like with anything else, experience can only help you.”